While southern Utah has produced quite a harvest of national parks, northern Utah’s bumper crop is of a different kind—state parks. And though their names are not as familiar as those of their national park cousins, their attractions are just as varied and enticing. Within a three-hour drive of Salt Lake City, you’ll find an island where the buffalo still roam, a station along the Pony Express route, a golf course set in the Wasatch Mountains, tracks laid down by dinosaurs, and a water recreation haven straddling the Utah-Idaho border.
Contact the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation for more information on the parks; annual multiple and single park permits; boating programs; and volunteer opportunities. Phone (801) 538-7220; 538-7458 (TDD). For off-highway vehicle programs, phone (800) OHV-RIDE. For camping reservations, phone (800) 322-3770; (801) 322-3770 in the Salt Lake City area.
Utah State Parks, A Complete Recreation Guide by Jan Bannan (The Mountaineers) tackles Utah’s entire system of 45 state parks. You’ll need AAA’s Nevada/Utah and Salt Lake City maps to get your bearings.
To make it easy to find what interests you, the Division of Parks and Recreation has assigned each state park to one of three categories: scenic, recreation, heritage. Of course, there is some overlap.
Dominated by remarkable landscapes, incredible vistas, and other natural wonders.
Each season brings different opportunities, from hiking and boating to cross-country skiing and ice fishing.
Whether it’s dinosaurs or Indian culture or pioneer settlements, you’ll find a part of Utah’s past here.
Antelope Island, 2 miles west of Syracuse, (801) 773-2941. Accessed via a 7.5-mile causeway, it’s the largest island in the Great Salt Lake. Drop by the visitor center to learn about the antelope, bison, bighorn sheep, bobcat, and the slew of migratory birds that call it home. Hikers and mountain bikers will find plenty of trails. Enjoy the backcountry on horseback or on a wagon ride with R&G Horse and Wagon, (801) 782-4946. More mellow pursuits include sunbathing, camping, and sight-seeing or dinner cruises aboard the Island Serenade, (801) 583-4400; (888) SALT ISLE.
In November, the island’s 500 to 600 bison are gathered together during the annual Bison Roundup to prevent winter starvation. The 1848 Fielding Garr Ranch, a former sheep ranch, is being restored and plans to reopen in the spring of 1999.
Wasatch Mountain, near Midway, (435) 654-1791. Utah’s most visited state park becomes a playground for the eyes in autumn. Vivid displays of foliage carpet the 22,000-acre tract between the Heber Valley’s farmland and the eastern slope of the Wasatch Mountains. Golfers will know this park for its two 18-hole, par 72 courses, (435) 654-0532; (801) 266-0268 in Salt Lake City area. Hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders, and OHV riders can catch views of nearby Deer Creek State Park. A children’s fishing pond is adjacent to the visitor center. Camping is available.
In winter, snowmobilers and cross-country skiers make use of an extensive system of trails and tracks. In fact, cross-country ski events for the 2002 Winter Olympics will be held here. Rentals and tours available.
Bear Lake, visitor center 2 miles north of Garden City on U.S. 89, (435) 946-3343. To get the best "first view" of the 20-mile-long mountain lake, split by the Utah-Idaho state line, take Scenic Byway 89 east from Logan. Bear Lake Marina has a boat ramp, nearly 300 seasonal slips, and boating/fishing supplies. A 4.2-mile paved path runs south from here. Rendezvous Beach, on the south shore, has three campgrounds and boat rentals, and holds a mountain man rendezvous in September. Scuba divers go deep in the turquoise waters at Cisco Beach, one of six primitive campgrounds along the east shore. Winter brings nearly 300 miles of maintained snowmobile trails and chances for cross-country skiing and dipnet fishing for Bonneville cisco.
Deer Creek, 7 miles SW of Heber City off U.S. 189, (435) 654-0171. Sail or windsurf this reservoir under the watchful eye of Mt. Timpanogos. Boat rentals and other services are offered at Island Resort. In autumn, have your camera close at hand to capture some brilliant foliage. Trout, bass, and perch may be fished year-round. Check out the dam at the southwest end, with its excellent view of the park and its surroundings. Wasatch Mountain State Park is just a stone’s throw away.
East Canyon, 12 miles south of Morgan, off S.R. 66, (801) 829-6866. All the boaters in this hub of water recreation may not be aware of the canyon’s history. Hike the East Canyon Creek corridor, part of the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail, and you’ll be following in the steps of the Donner Party and the first Mormon settlers. There are boat rentals and pull-outs around the reservoir for fishing. A triathlon is here held each May.
Hyrum, 405 West 300 South in Hyrum, (435) 245-6866. The green and serene Cache Valley is home to this reservoir. Pitch camp, ply the waters, or just bask on the beach. Hiking trails and bike routes are close at hand. From December to March, the action shifts to nearby Hardware Ranch, a Rocky Mountain elk management area, with a visitor center (closed in summer), snowmobile rentals, and horse-drawn sleigh rides among the wintering elk, (435) 753-6206.
Jordan River, between N. Temple and 2200 North in Salt Lake City, (801) 533-4496. Everything an urban park should be. A trail lets runners, cyclists, and horses follow the river for nearly 5 miles. Launch a canoe from one of several docks for a leisurely paddle downstream. Play the nine-hole, par 3 golf course; club rentals available, (801) 533-4527. On the north end: a 200-acre raceway for OHVs and motocross events and a "modelport" for radio controlled airplanes.
Jordanelle, between Park City and Heber City, off U.S. 40, (435) 649-9540. The newest addition to the park system, its reservoir and marshes are extremely popular with birds—some 200 species, in fact. Orient yourself at the Hailstone Recreation Site’s visitor center, with camping and boat facilities nearby. The Rock Cliff Recreation Site, on the riparian east shore, sports a nature center, nature trail, and campsites for the disabled. An unpaved, 27-mile multiuse trail encircles the park, with a link to the Union Pacific Rail Trail. International Migratory Bird Day is celebrated each May.
Rockport, between Wanship and Peoa, off S.R. 32, (435) 336-2241. Campaholics be warned: Nine campgrounds, from primitive to developed, grace the park. Spending just the day? There are picnic Starvation Utah areas among the juniper and sagebrush, with views out over the reservoir. Water activities range from the obvious boating and fishing to kayaking and windsurfing. Ice fishing and cross-country skiing trails are the park’s winter draws.
Starvation, 4 miles west of Duchesne, off U.S. 40, (435) 738-2326. Contrasting the high desert surroundings and Uinta Mountain backdrop is one heck of a fishing hole. Angle for bass and trout, but Starvation is best known for walleye (a walleye tournament is held in September). Boating, swimming, and waterskiing are other options. The 23 miles of shoreline support five campgrounds (four of them primitive). There’s also a 100-acre OHV area.
Steinaker/Red Fleet, 7 and 10 miles north of Vernal, respectively, off U.S. 191, (435) 789-4432. Boat, fish, hike, and camp in a dinosaur hot spot of the Jurassic Period at these neighboring parks. Millions of years of wind, water, and geologic activity have provided both reservoirs with incredible topography—from ancient layers of the earth’s crust forced up from below, to red sandstone cliffs and walls. Dinosaur tracks are still visible at Red Fleet. Expeditions can also be made to nearby Flaming Gorge NRA, Dinosaur NM, and Utah Field House of Natural History State Park.
Union Pacific Rail Trail, (435) 649-6839. Running nearly 30 miles from Park City north to Echo Reservoir and intersecting with the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail, this route was used for over a century by the Union Pacific Railroad from the mines around Park City to the Wasatch Front. Today, the state’s first "no-motors" rail trail is accessible to hikers, cyclists, equestrians, and cross-country skiers at the north and south terminals, as well as at Coalville, Wanship, and Star Pointe.
Utah Lake, 4400 W. Center St. in Provo, (801) 375-0731. The largest natural freshwater lake in the state (a whopping 96,000 acres) is more than just another boating spot. With the Lake Mountains to the west and Wasatch to the northeast, it’s also one big photo op. Look for raptors and shorebirds where the Provo River enters the lake. Fishing clinics and workshops are held in summer. Lace up your skates, December to March, at the Olympic-size ice rink.
Willard Bay, 15 miles north of Ogden off I-15/84, (435) 734-9494. Set on the northeast edge of the Great Salt Lake is this freshwater reservoir, separated from the briny waters by a 15-mile-long dike. Two marinas provide boat rentals and related services. Anglers can cast for crappie, carp, catfish, and more. The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge borders on the north and the Crane Wildlife Management Area on the west so keep those binoculars handy. Camping is available.
Camp Floyd/Stagecoach Inn, in Fairfield, (801) 768-8932; (801) 254-9036 in winter. The U.S. Army established its camp here in 1858 following word of a possible Mormon rebellion. The rebellion never occurred, but the troops remained and the town grew, thanks in part to its location on the overland stage and Pony Express routes. The inn was frequented by travelers and military officials alike. When the Civil War drew the army east, the party was over. The camp’s only remains are a commissary building housing period artifacts, and the military cemetery. Visitors may also tour the restored inn. Hours: daily 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Easter weekend to Oct. 15; closed in winter.
Fort Buenaventura, 2450 A Avenue in Ogden, (801) 621-4808. Built in the mid-1840s along the Weber River, the fort was the Great Basin’s first permanent Anglo settlement, marking the end of the fur trading era, and the beginnings of present-day Ogden. A re-created fort and trading post now stand in for the original, which fire destroyed in 1852. Canoe rentals are available and kids ages 13 and under are permitted to fish or picnic under a big, shady tree. Annual events include mountain man rendezvous celebrations Labor Day and Easter weekends.
This Is the Place, 2601 Sunnyside Ave. in Salt Lake City, (801) 584-8392. Upon setting eyes on the Salt Lake Valley, Brigham Young brought the Mormon western migration to an end with four words: "This is the place." A massive granite and bronze monument commemorates the arrival, and the explorers and pioneers who came before. The Old Deseret Village, a collection of over 20 buildings from the Mormon pioneer period (1847-1869), is brought to life by costumed docents Memorial Day through October. Tours of Brigham Young’s Forest Farm House are offered. Enjoy a cowboy dinner and western music show Friday and Saturday nights at Gabriel’s Restaurant, (801) 583-1780. When the snow falls, cross-country skiing is permitted on village streets. Upcoming events: a pumpkin harvest and candlelight tours at Christmas.
Utah Field House of Natural History, 235 E. Main in Vernal, (435) 789-3799. This paleontologist’s paradise covers the nearly 3-billion- year history of the Uinta Mountain/Uinta Basin territory. Beyond a full-size diplodocus skeleton are rooms dedicated to the area’s extensive fossil and geologic yields as well as its Indian culture and wildlife. Seventeen life-size dinosaur models stand their ground in the adjacent garden. Celebrate these giant reptiles during the annual Dinosaur Days in August. Hours: daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (8 a.m. to 9 p.m. in summer).
Veterans Memorial, 6 miles south of Riverton on S.R. 68, (801) 254-9036. Looking out onto the Wasatch Mountains, it’s Utah’s only cemetery dedicated to veterans of the armed forces. The 30-acre park features a strikingly designed chapel, a military display in the administrative building, and the Wall of Honor for veterans and those who helped develop the park.
Photography by Tom Till and Ron Evans
This article was first published in September 1998. Some facts
may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.